Independent MP Pieter Omtzigt’s announcement that he is forming a new political party, Nieuw Sociaal Contract, has shaken up a general election campaign that was already highly unpredictable.
An opinion poll by I&O last month, when the former Christian Democrat (CDA) MP was still considering his options, indicated he could win 46 seats, which would make his new faction the largest group by a distance.
Omtzigt said in his first campaign video that such a large haul would be “irresponsible”, heeding the experience of new parties that grew too quickly and then collapsed in recent years, such as Pim Fortuyn’s LPF and Forum voor Democratie.
A poll published last weekend by Maurice de Hond will come as a comfort, as it projects him to win 27 seats, making the election a three-way contest between Omtzigt’s party, the right-wing liberal VVD and the left-wing alliance of GroenLinks and Labour (PvdA).
On Monday he immediately ruled out joining a coalition with the far-right parties PVV, led by Geert Wilders, and Forum, telling local newspaper Tubantia that he will only work with parties that “comply with the basic principle of the rule of law”.
The 49-year-old’s reputation as a conscientious independent voice has been a source of frustration for some of his colleagues in The Hague, including outgoing prime minister Mark Rutte and former CDA leader Wopke Hoekstra.
But it is also the chief reason for his popularity among Dutch voters, who see the “pitbull from Twente” as standing above the self-interest and horse-trading that permeates the Binnenhof.
He was one of the main drivers of the inquiry into the childcare benefits scandal, along with departing Socialist MP Renske Leijten, in which the tax office was found to have wrongly accused thousands of families of defrauding the allowance system.
Omtzigt’s tenacity has sometimes led him into controversy. He had to give up his role as the CDA’s spokesman on the MH17 disaster after promoting a “fake witness” who cast doubt on Russia’s responsibility for shooting down the aircraft.
“Pieter is a kind of good fairy who hangs over the marketplace,” I&O researcher Peter Kanne told the Telegraaf newspaper. “He’s highly valued for his integrity and the fact that he acts as a thorn in the side of the established parties.”
One of the most enthusiastic responses to his decision to set up his own party came from Caroline van der Plas, leader of the farmers’ party BBB, which is expected to be one of the biggest casualties of his decision to stand.
“I hope he finds lots of good people for his list of candidates and look forward to working with him and his new party,” she said.
Felicitatie is op zijn plaats! Ik wens @PieterOmtzigt veel succes en sterkte met zijn nieuwe partij @NWSocContract. Hoop dat hij veel goeie mensen voor zijn kandidatenlijst verzamelt en kijk uit naar samenwerking met hem en zijn nieuwe partij! #SamenSterk https://t.co/4RtTsfL2Gh
— Caroline van der Plas (@lientje1967) August 20, 2023
Latest polls give the BBB around 12 seats – just over half the number it was predicted to win before Omtzigt launched his party. Omtzigt is expected to take votes mainly from right-wing parties such as the VVD, JA21 and Geert Wilders’s PVV, but also the Socialists (SP) and the PvdA/GroenLinks combination.
Omtzigt was first elected as an MP in 2003 for the CDA, but fell out with the party after the last election after it emerged that Rutte and Hoekstra had discussed giving him a “function elsewhere” away from parliament, such as a ministerial post.
In his time with the CDA he built an independent support base in his home region of Twente, which enabled him to retain his seat in 2012 even after the party dropped him down the list of candidates.
In 2020 he narrowly lost a contest for the CDA leadership to Hugo de Jonge. But when De Jonge stepped down in December that year, citing the pressure of combining the leadership with his job as health minister, Omtzigt was passed over in favour of finance minister Hoekstra.
The new leader of the CDA, Henri Bontebal, has said the “door remains open” for Omtzigt to return or a collaboration with his party, but Omtzigt has said on social media that the “book remains closed”.
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